JOHANNESBURG – The legendary South African jazz musician Hugh Masekela, regarded by many as the father of jazz in the African country, died on Tuesday at the age of 78 following a long battle with cancer, his family said in a statement.
The world-renowned trumpeter’s involvement in the struggle against South Africa’s apartheid regime sent him into exile in 1961, and his 1987 hit song for Nelson Mandela, “Bring Him Back Home,” was used as the anthem for Mandela’s world tour after his release from prison.
“It is with profound sorrow the family of Ramapolo Hugh Masekela announce his passing,” his relatives said. “After a protracted and courageous battle with prostate cancer, he passed peacefully in Johannesburg, South Africa surrounded by his family.”
Masekela had suffered from cancer since 2008, and was forced in October 2017 to cancel his appearance in a music festival bearing his name in Johannesburg.
The three-time Grammy music award nominee played at Mandela’s inauguration in Pretoria in 1994 and took part in the 2010 FIFA World Cup opening ceremony in South Africa.
He performed at several International Jazz Day events organized by UNESCO since 2011, as well as numerous other international music festivals.
In 2016, he received a lifetime achievement honors from the MTV Africa Music Awards.
Masekela was also known for touring with United States folk musician Paul Simon following the release of Simon’s 1986 album “Graceland,” which featured collaborations with a number of South African artists and popularized the country’s music for a new global audience.
He was also considered the star performer at the Graceland concert in Hyde Park, London, 2012 when he joined Paul Simon on stage and won an ovation from the crowd.
Though he first learned to play the piano as a boy, Masekela was later inspired to switch to the trumpet, and became part of South African’s first youth orchestra, the Huddleston Jazz Band, formed by anti-apartheid activist Father Trevor Huddleston.
As an upcoming jazz trumpeter, he joined up with fellow South African jazzman Abdullah Ibrahim (known as Dollar Brand up until 1968) to play on Brand’s first album, “Jazz Epistle Verse 1” released in 1960.
Between 1964-1966, Masekela was married to singer, actress and activist Miriam Makeba (1932-2008), one of the most important figures fighting the white-ruled apartheid regime outside South Africa.
Restrictions imposed by the South African government on jazz, which authorities regarded as a way to express resistance, prompted Masekela’s exile – first to London, then in New York – and he finally returned to his home country in the early 1990s after the end of apartheid.